After leaving Arequipa and the Colca Canyon I headed back to Cusco where I waited for a certain Dane, who had just arrived in South America, to finish the Salkantay Trek. This was the first time in my Peru trip that I spent a whole week in the same city and it was a desperately needed break. However, I spent the entire time doing not much more than working and eating, which can be a dangerous combination.
Without the constant activity of hiking and biking and madwoman sightseeing that had been negating the effects of my increasingly unhealthy diet in Peru, I started to feel like a blob pretty quickly. One day I asked at my hostel where the nicest gym in Cusco was, and they directed me to a basement warehouse with one broken elliptical and some weight machines that felt like they were going to crumble in my hands.
Then SUP Cusco came to the rescue. I’ve loved Stand Up Paddleboarding since I first tried it in Hawaii last year, but I haven’t been back on a board since my trip to Florida a few months later. I wouldn’t have imagined the highlands of Peru would be where I’d revive my long lost passion, but duty called — I was doing research for a Men’s Fitness travel section story and this was the perfect addition to the piece.
SUP Cusco was launched just five months ago by owner Alvaro Bedoya, an enthusiastic promoter of the sport. Cusco is known for being an active city, a place you can hike, bike, and raft to your heart’s content. However, SUP Cusco has added an exciting new aquatic option to the sports scene in the city. Originally from Lima, Alvaro is now a passionate resident of Cusco, intent on providing a unique experience to tourists and visiting athletes alike.
Our day started with a scenic drive to Lake Piuray, less than a forty five minute drive from the city center. When we arrived at the lake, I could understand Alvaro’s vision for starting a business here — a flock of birds grazed the top of the serene water, disrupting the reflection of the snow capped mountains in the distance.
SUP Cusco offers a variety of tours from fun paddling trips for the first timer to SUP yoga classes to intense fitness training programs that blend crossfit, yoga, and paddling. The latter is used by Peruvian athletes — such as the championship national soccer team — looking to have fun, boost morale, and take advantage of the benefits of training at such high altitude. Did I mention Lake Piuray sits at 12,500 feet/3,800 meters? SUP Cusco claims to be the highest paddling tours in the world — and I don’t think anyone is going to contest that. People skydive from this altitude!
Our own tour was made up of a perfect blend of all three trips.
Our quick meditation and yoga warm up was followed by a training session using resistance bands. I’m not overly familiar with resistance bands but was blown away with how, using nothing but our own body weight and some simple bands, we were able to work core, upper and lower strength! Many of the exercises emphasized balance, a crucial element of Stand Up Paddleboarding.
When I felt my sore muscles the next morning, I considered making one of those resistance bands an addition to my usual packing list.
When the gym session was over, we struggled our way into our wetsuits and made our way to the water’s edge for one more pre-paddle mini yoga session. I was reminded once again that wetsuits are not made for short people and felt a pang of longing for my Swish Suit, sitting sadly in my closet back in New York. (You guys remember that Alex in Wanderland readers get 10% of all Swish purchases using the discount code “Wanderland,” right?)
If only I had known I’d need a wetsuit for my trip to Peru!
I think one of the hardest parts of the whole day was paddling out through the reeds, algae and plants growing along the shores of the lake. Once we reached open water, we rose from kneeling to standing position, laughing as we almost lost our balance. I wasn’t yet hot from the combination of sun, sweat, and neoprene, and the chilly water did not seem enticing.
Our eventual goal was to make it all the way around the 5km circumference of the lake, but we stopped often to practice different paddle techniques, take yoga breaks, and appreciate the beauty of the colorful painting we seemed to be plopped in.
I was the only one outside the instructors with previous paddling experience, which I would love to say explained the fact that I was the only one who didn’t fall of my board — but I think in reality I was taking the least risks! What can I say, I’m what scuba divers call a warm water wussy.
I’m always amazed by what a fantastic workout Stand Up Paddling is. It looks fairly simple when you’re watching from the shore, but when you’re up on the board? It’s the perfect storm of balance, strength, and cardio — all in low impact form, and basking in the restorative powers of the sun and water. While I paddled, I dreamed up a plan to buy a second hand board to keep at my mom’s house in Martha’s Vineyard and waking up early every morning I’m there to start the day with a SUP session. I can’t think of a better workout for mind and body.
I’m not a religious person, but I feel a connection to the water that can almost be described as spiritual. I had been missing the ocean as I traveled through the highlands, and this day on the lake was exactly what I needed. The indigenous Andean people believe in a spirit called Pachamama, or mother earth. I felt her too, on this day.
I never expected I’d have an aquatic adventure so high in the Andes! What’s the strangest place you’ve worked out?
Tours leave 3-4 times per week from Cusco. Half day paddling trips cost $60USD and include transportation, all equipment, and healthy snacks. A fitness program is $95 USD and includes everything from the paddling tour plus a fitness circuit and lunch. Contact SUP Cusco for more details and for information on races, lake clean up days, and personalized programs! I was a guest of SUP Cusco in order to include them in an upcoming Men’s Fitness article. As always, you receive my thorough and honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.